Eagle Ford Shale Trip Gives Bauer Students Complete View of Energy Industry
The C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston took learning on the road in early August, as faculty, staff, administrators and students from the college went on a two-day tour of the Eagle Ford Shale in south-central Texas to learn about the technology that is driving the energy industry.
Dean Latha Ramchand conceptualized the trip in the spring semester and reached out to contacts, including Cameron Chairman, President and CEO Jack Moore (BBA ’77), who helped to organize a site visit for the Bauer group on the second day of the trip. The group also met with Talisman Energy during the trip to observe and tour drilling sites.
“Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ to extract shale gas is being touted as a game changer for the energy industry,” Ramchand said. “Because we live in Houston, the energy capital of the world, and are Houston’s business school, it is critical that we do everything possible to arm our students with the knowledge, skills and experience to lead the next generation of the industry. We wanted to give them the experience of actually seeing the work being done on the ground so that they understand and respect a business process that involves so many moving parts.”
Nine students representing a variety of programs and majors within the college made the trip with Ramchand and other members of the college’s administration, staff and faculty, including Joseph Pratt, the Cullen Professor of History and Business, and Radha Radhakrishnan, a clinical assistant professor in the college whose professional career spans decades in oil and gas leadership roles.
The group’s first stop was in Kenedy County to meet with a crew from Talisman Energy and observe an operational fracking site. The team of engineers spent the afternoon with the Bauer group, explaining the technology behind the project and answering students’ questions. Later in the day, the group had the opportunity to don full safety gear —including coveralls, glasses, steel-toe boots, hardhats and gloves — and go onto a drilling rig to see the process up close and speak to the workers manning the machinery.
On the second day of the trip, the group drove to Pearsall and visited the Cameron facility that is one of the equipment hubs in the Eagle Ford Shale. Cameron’s vice president for business development Brian Matusek gave a presentation that integrated business processes with the technology and engineering of fracking, focusing on how the company evaluates the investment of bringing new facilities and services online.
After the presentation, the group had the chance to walk the equipment yard as Matusek and members of Cameron’s team explained different pieces of equipment and how they track and evaluate each project. Frank Kelley, associate dean for undergraduate business programs, underscored the value for students to see different angles of an industry they will likely find themselves connected to in some way if they stay in Houston after graduation.
“The oil and gas industry has been a major employer of Bauer students in the past, and with new finds in the Eagle Ford Shale and new drilling techniques, it will continue to be for at least the next generation of graduates,” he said. “For that reason, an understanding of the upstream process would help anyone in the industry have a holistic perspective on their role in an energy company.”
“That is what we learned as we climbed on an oil platform, heard from the operators about the fracking process, and toured the equipment yard full of separators, wellheads and other drilling equipment,” Kelley added. “The smell of oil, the grit of southwest Texas dust and explanations from those who are on the ground put new meaning into Bauer’s commitment to prepare students for the real world of business.”
The experience had a profound impact on the students who attended, including accounting senior Katherine Berry, a Bauer Honors student who will graduate in December 2013 with a bachelor’s degree and certificates in internal audit and oil and gas.
“The opportunity to get a firsthand experience like this is priceless,” said Berry, who plans to work for a mid-market firm in Houston auditing clients that include energy companies. “A trip like this helps me to learn more about what some of my clients will be doing so I can be a bigger asset to them and hopefully help them to continuously improve.”
The chance to visit the field and see drilling as it happened was something not typical of a business school, she added. “As a business student, you are usually indoors, at a desk, and missing the ‘action’ of the industry. Events like this let you build a bigger picture, which makes you a better person and employee.”
“I was so excited to actually be able to hold ground shale that came up from the earth within a short period of me being on the rig extracting it. Knowing how long it took to develop and actually being there where it is coming up with the mud was just beyond words,” Berry said.
Bauer Honors student Jason John, who is pursuing a degree in accounting and management information systems, agreed that although he likely won’t be suiting up and drilling oil as a career, seeing the operations gives him a level of understanding of the business that his peers may not have.
“It’s not every day that an ordinary person is allowed to walk onto a rig,” John said. “Getting the chance to put on coveralls and a hard hat, and to actually see the engineers and technicians at work is something I’ll never forget. If I decide to work in the industry as an accountant, I’ll have that much more knowledge about the field and be able to really understand what it is my company does.”
Bauer Honors student Sasha Volguina, a double major in entrepreneurship and supply chain, added that the time spent learning with faculty, staff and college leadership was a big bonus. “Spending two days getting to know my school’s dean, assistant deans and fellow student leaders in an educational and exciting environment provided an experience unrivaled by any field trip I have ever taken.”
Teri Elkins Longacre, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs, saw a commonality among the students and the Talisman and Cameron employees — pride.
“In addition to providing Bauer faculty, staff and students with invaluable knowledge regarding the technical and business aspects of shale drilling, the employees illustrated a critical component of success in any field: have pride in what you do,” she said.
“This sentiment was evident throughout our Eagle Ford tours with everyone we encountered, conveying an infectious sense of pride and passion for a job well done,” Longacre added. “The care and attention paid to every detail of their jobs, from the cleanliness and safety of the drilling rigs to the development of new technology, was inspiring and undoubtedly contributes significantly to the performance of their organizations. My hope is that our students will apply this facet of our incredible learning experience to their education, chosen career and other parts of their lives.”
Bauer student Mohamad Wehbe, who is studying supply chain with a minor in economics and serves as president of the APICS student organization, agreed. “The highlight of the trip for me was the passion our hosts provided about what they do, and the level of simplicity they articulated about their jobs without compromising the complexity of the concepts explained.”
Fatima De Leon, a supply chain and marketing major who is involved in both APICS and the Hispanic Business Student Association, also noted the level of access given to the Bauer group and the willingness of the company representatives from both days to share their knowledge.
“Not everyone can say they have experienced entering an oil rig without being an engineer in the field or having years of experience,” she said. “Stepping inside the cabin where the drilling is maneuvered, looking at and touching the parts used, and seeing the separation process for the mud is something I will never forget. “It was even more memorable because everyone we met was so nice and willing to answer our questions. We truly felt welcomed.”
Chris Beard, a Bauer Honors student who will graduate with a double major in finance and marketing this fall, added that the college is uniquely positioned to provide students this kind of access to energy companies and to in turn connect those companies to students as potential employees.
“No other university in the state, and possibly across the country, could put together such a hands-on trip to give students the opportunity to soak up knowledge from energy industry professionals,” he said.
For MBA candidate Larry Rook, who serves as president of the Bauer MBA Society and is a board member of the college’s MBA Advisory Board, the trip broadened an existing interest in the energy industry and sparked new ideas through the concepts and techniques discussed in the various presentations.
“It is immediately applicable and immediately impactful,” Rook said. “No one who attended the trip will look at energy in the same way again.”
By Jessica Navarro